DALTON HIGHWAY ARCTIC CIRCLE: A SURVIVAL GUIDE
A practical guide to help prepare you for driving the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle and beyond.
To be honest, I was intimidated by the thought of driving the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle even before stepping foot in Alaska.
All the information that I read beforehand gave me serious doubts about wanting to venture into the far north. As it turned out, driving the Dalton Highway was far more tame than expected.
The first 20 miles showed to be the roughest patch of road. Around mile 15, Jowday (our car), suddenly decided to flash her noxious warning lights to let us know she wasn’t very happy.
At this point we pulled over, turned off the engine and let her rest. As neither of us are educated in the realm of mechanics, we thought we would have to turn around and forgo driving the seemingly untouchable Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle. What a shame that would have been!
Be sure to check out our comprehensive Dalton Highway road trip guide after you have finished with this post!
THE ALASKA ROAD TRIP BIBLE
The Milepost: the ultimate Alaska road trip guide. Our constant companion during our road trip along the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle. I could go on forever about the usefulness of this extensive travel guide. The Milepost provides mile-by-mile descriptions of every road in Alaska, including the Dalton Highway. In hindsight, I can’t imagine a road trip though Alaska without The Milepost and I highly recommend this book for everyone.
If you are interested in more Alaska road trip guides, check out our in-depth post about the Kenai Peninsula!
RENTING A CAR VS. DRIVING YOUR PERSONAL VEHICLE
Be advised that if you plan to rent a car for your road trip, most rental car companies do not permit driving on the Dalton Highway. Check out Fairbanks based Arctic Outfitters or GoNorth Travel Center. Both companies specialize in rental vehicles for traveling in remote Alaska, and specifically for driving the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle and beyond.
If you plan to drive your personal vehicle, be sure that your vehicle is mechanically sound and your tires in good condition with a full-size spare available. The doughnut spares that come equipped in most vehicles are not sufficient replacements for full-size tires. We were warned about the almost certainty of getting a flat tire while driving the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle, and we did see a few unlucky tourists on the side of the road changing their tire.
Paying for a tow truck will eat your entire travel budget
Consider yourself warned- If you need to have your vehicle towed from any point along the Dalton Highway to Fairbanks, expect to pay between $1200 – $1800 (maybe even more). We did everything in our power to avoid our seemingly inevitable fate. Prior to setting out for Alaska, we paid a visit to our trusty mechanic, as well as invested in new tires. Luckily, Jowday made it to Arctic Circle and left the Dalton Highway with a clean bill of health.
AVAILABILITY OF FUEL ALONG THE DALTON HIGHWAY
A common concern that many people have before venturing to the Arctic Circle and beyond is the availability of fuel along the Dalton Highway. The irony of it though- a “haul” road with a pipeline filled with fuel that runs parallel to the highway is sparse on locations to fill your tank. Anyway, there are 3 locations to fill your tank while driving the Dalton Highway: Yukon River Camp, Coldfoot Camp, and Deadhorse Camp. You will want to fill your tank prior to leaving Fairbanks and then at each of the 3 locations along the way.
We brought an extra 5 gallon gas canister that we filled in Fairbanks, but we never had to use it. Even if you calculate that your vehicle will have no problem driving the long stretch of highway between gas stations, bring an extra fuel canister just in case. If you make it back to Yukon River Camp without having to use the extra fuel, you can use it to hold you over until Fairbanks where gas is much cheaper. Be aware that gas is outrageously expensive along the Dalton Highway, at least when compared to standard gas prices in the US. We paid an average of $6/gallon- this was almost double the price per gallon in Fairbanks.
The accommodation options are limited and expensive. If you don’t mind camping, this is your best bet.
Camping along the Dalton Highway
*Campgrounds in bold indicate a formal camping area with basic amenities
Mile 60 BLM Campground
Mile 115 Arctic Circle BLM Wayside Campground
Mile 125 – North Fork Bonanza Creek – informal & primitive camping alongside the creek
Mile 136 – Follow sign for Prospect Camp
Mile 144 – Jim River #3 – informal & primitive camping along river
Mile 151 – Grayling Lake – informal & primitive camping along lake shore
Mile 156 – South Fork Koyukuk River – informal & primitive camping along river
Mile 180 – Marion Creek BLM Campground
Mile 189 (turnoff to Wiseman) – Middle Fork Koyukuk River – informal & primitive camping along sandbars
Mile 195 – take side road leading to an open field for informal & primitive camping
Mile 239 – Follow the bridge over the river to access an informal & primitive camping area
Mile 249 – Look for turnout near the creek to access an area for informal & primitive camping
Mile 275 – Take the access road apx. 4 miles to Galbraith Lake Campground
Mile 314 – Take the side road to access an informal & primitive camping area
Mile 321 – Follow side road to access the Sag River – informal & primitive camping along the river
Mile 355 – Last Chance Wayside – follow the dirt road uphill for informal & primitive camping
Mile 367 & 371- Take the side road to an informal and primitive camping area
Mile 407 – Sag River – informal & primitive camping along riverbank
Lodging available along the Dalton Highway
Lodging options along the Dalton Highway are sparse and austere. With the exception of Wiseman, you will only find trailer-style rooms available at the three camps:
Yukon River Camp – Mile 56 – Rates between $219 – $239/night; community bathrooms
Coldfoot Camp – Mile 175 – Rates between $219 – $249/night; community bathrooms
Wiseman – Mile 189:
Arctic Getaway Bed and Breakfast – Three beautiful and cozy log cabins for rent. Rates depend on the specific cabin and season – between $135 – $350/night.
Wiseman Gold Rush Bed and Breakfast – Stop by, email, or call for current availability and prices.
Boreal Lodging – Log cabins and standard rooms available – email or call for current availability and prices.
Deadhorse Camp – Mile 415 – Rates between $219 – $259/night; community bathrooms
INDISPENSABLE ITEMS TO BRING FOR YOUR ROAD TRIP
There are just some items you don’t want to forget to bring as you set out for the Arctic Circle down the Dalton Highway. These are the items that we found to be absolutely indispensable:
Extra Cash – This was one of our “just in case items.” We found that every place along the Dalton Highway accepted credit cards, but there are no ATMs available between Fairbanks and Deadhorse. It would be terrible to be stuck in the situation of a declined card and no chance to get cash.
Water bottles or a Water filter – There are limited places to fill up with water along the Dalton Highway, so it is best to bring a 5-gallon jug and replenish with potable water whenever it is available. Another option is to purchase a water filter and take advantage of all the natural water sources surrounding the Dalton Highway. We use the MSR Guardian Purifier for all of our backcountry and international traveling.
Camping Gear – This is a bit obvious, but there is nothing like being out in the middle of nowhere, far from the nearest store, and realizing that you forgot something of utmost importance, say for example, propane! Make a list of everything you will need before driving the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle. Stop at REI or Fred Meyer in Fairbanks for those last minute items!
First-Aid Kit – The terrain is unforgiving, the bugs are relentless and illness is unpredictable. Sprained ankles, bug bites and other unfortunate mishaps can happen. Make sure you have the basics to take care of those pesky situations – antiseptic cream, anti-itch cream, Benadryl, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, ace-wraps, etc. Sunscreen is another MUST have personal item!
Mosquito Repellent & Head Net – You can expect to experience mosquitoes as you never have before. During the summer, the Arctic has the highest concentration of mosquitoes on the planet (YIKES). You can avoid the mosquito problem all together by choosing to drive the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle from September to March, but if you go in the Spring/Summer, be prepared!
Portable Air Compressor Pump – This was such a great buy, as we used it countless times during our road trip through Alaska. An inexpensive and undoubtedly useful item to have handy during your road trip down the Dalton Highway. The road is rough, potholes are abundant and the temperature can fluctuate drastically; all of these factors contribute to low tire pressure. There are several options for air compressor pumps on Amazon.
Full-Size Spare Tire and a Tire Repair Sealant – Don’t rely on your car’s spare doughnut tire to get you through a flat tire. We explained to a local in Fairbanks about our plan to drive the Dalton Highway and his response was, “you WILL get at least one flat tire.” Luckily, we made it through without a flat, but it was peace of mind knowing that we were prepared for the worst case scenario. In the event of a tire puncture, tire sealant will be your new best friend.
Jumper Cables and a Basic Tool Box – I know, more boring car accessories. We never had to use jumper cables for our own car, but we used them to help fellow travelers on three different occasions.
Five-Gallon Fuel Container – Another indispensable “just in case” item. There is a 245 mile stretch of highway between Coldfoot and Deadhorse where there are no gas stations. This shouldn’t be an issue for most vehicles, but it is best to be prepared for any situation. Fill the fuel container before leaving Fairbanks.
Bear Spray – If you plan on hiking, camping, or any other activity other than simply driving, bear spray is a MUST. Grizzly bears are out there, roaming freely amid the landscape, living their life just as you are. It is very possible that you will encounter a bear at some point, especially if you hike into the backcountry. You will probably never use it, but then again it could save your life.
Personal Locator Beacon – Last but certainly not least! This item may not be necessary for everyone, but if you are the type who likes to venture into the backcountry, this is an investment for your life. The Dalton Highway crosses through a vast, remote wilderness and you will be without cell service for the majority of the time. Exploring the beautiful landscape is an amazing experience that you don’t want to miss, but again, you need to be prepared for the worst. Getting lost or hurt is a real possibility, even for the most experienced of us. Purchasing a personal locator beacon will allow you travel into the backcountry with peace of mind.
WASHING AWAY THE EVIDENCE
A road trip to the Arctic Circle via the Dalton Highway is not complete without a visit to the car wash. Depending on the season you are driving, chances are your car will be a mess! Once you have completed your road trip and have safely made it back to Fairbanks, find the nearest car wash, immediately!
There you have it! Our tips for surviving a road trip down the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle. Now that you are sufficiently prepared, check out our comprehensive Dalton Highway road trip guide to assist with ideas and inspiration as you plan your road trip!
Have you driven the Dalton Highway? Do you have additional insight? Or are you planning to do it and have questions?
Share your experience or voice your questions in the comments section!